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We must do 'everything we can' to stop Brexit, says John Bruton

Former premier and EU ambassador John Bruton has urged Ireland to "do everything we can" to make sure "there is no Brexit".

British PM Theresa May's plan for leaving the EU would do incalculable damage to Ireland "politically, emotionally and economically", warned the ex-Taoiseach.

"We cannot simply wait for this to happen," he said.

"While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May's chosen hard Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure that, at the end of the day, there is no Brexit."

Mr Bruton accused UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson of having "criminally misled" the UK over the consequences of leaving the EU, before rowing back and tempering his remarks.

"Boris Johnson attempted to simplify the Brexit issue by saying we can have our cake and eat it," he told a parliamentary committee in Dublin.

"It was a memorable phrase and it was criminally wrong.

"It criminally misled - I shouldn't say criminally, it is not criminally - but it irresponsibly misled the people of Britain."

Mr Bruton told the special Brexit committee the UK might yet change its mind on leaving the EU once it fully realises the alternative.

"While I believe it may seem impossibly optimistic today, I believe conditions can be envisaged in which, eventually, the UK voters might decide either not to leave the EU at all, or to decide, after it has left, to rejoin," he said.

Ireland should work "to keep that possibility alive", he added.

Speaking afterwards to the Press Association, he said Dublin should press the other 26 EU countries to put an offer on the table allowing the UK to remain within the bloc when exit negotiations formally conclude in two years.

This would be on the terms that existed in 2015, before the UK renegotiation and without any budgetary rebate.

By this stage, voters may come to realise that Brexit is a lot more unpalatable than they expected, he said.

Mr Bruton said EU leaders would be "reasonably" receptive to the option, despite misgivings over the number of concessions Britain has won from Brussels over the years.

"I want there to be the alternative available, of Britain changing its mind," said the former EU ambassador to the US.

"The UK should be allowed an option to change its mind.

"Just as politicians are allowed to change their mind if they make a mistake, I think the public should be allowed to changed its minds if it made a mistake."

Mr Bruton said he envisaged the possibility of a second referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiation period.

He added: "It may well be that the UK has to experience the reality of leaving the EU to realise that the EU isn't such a bad thing after all to be in."

He said: "Those people who will react badly to what I'm suggesting have, in my opinion, done immense damage to their own country and their own constituents for the cause they have been advocating.

"I wouldn't expect them to react favourably to what I'm suggesting and, in fact, I would be disappointed to be in such company."

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